You know I was thinking, wouldn’t this count as a harem story? Sure there’s no guarantee this will end with Iris in multiple relationships, but that’s true of plenty of other harem and reverse harem stories as well. And we already have direct confirmation that at least Sarah and Mycena are in love with Iris right now. I don’t know, thinking about what constitutes a harem story is just one of the things I’m doing to kill boredom during this quarantine. Hope you’re all staying safe.
Section 14: Envisioned Path
“Oh my, welcome home. You’ve been going out a lot recently.”
Mom’s voice rose to greet me as I walked into the living room through the back door. She was in her usual apron and was busy preparing supper like she always is at this time of the evening.
“Yeah, a bit…….now and then.”
“Sarah was complaining you know? Talking about how her Onee-chan wasn’t helping with the store at all.”
“Ah, right……I’ll apologize later.”
Now that I think about it, when I was leaving this morning I did promise to explain things to Sarah when I got back. But how do I explain this? I still haven’t sorted out what I should tell her or how much.
“Oh, where’s Saluena-san? Didn’t you two leave together?”
Mom propped herself up on her tiptoes and peered behind me when she noticed someone was missing.
“Saluena said she had some business to take care of, so she left after walking me home.”
“Oh, I see. I was thinking about cooking whatever she wanted for supper tonight. I suppose you’ll have to do. What would you like me to make tonight?”
Honestly I don’t have an appetite. But in order to not raise any suspicions, I forced a smile and told her stew.
“Okay, that sounds good. It might be getting warmer out, but a good stew will taste delicious with how cold it’s still getting at night.”
Satisfied with my answer, my mom left me and headed over to the kitchen in a good mood.
I moved my hand up to my face to make sure I had actually managed to pull off a smile.
“……I……was relieved, back then……..”
Saluena never said anything after that. Looking at me, she gave my head a small pat.
It always feels like Saluena is holding herself back when she touches me, as if she were handling a fragile doll, but this time her hand was heavier, messier. She then turned on her heels, and after mumbling something along the lines of, “I’ll be right back,” she walked back towards a city died red from the setting sun………never turning back.
How many days has it been since I’ve been able to say that? Saluena has been acting as my shadow since the day I formally met her, and so with her gone, I’m now all alone. A silence I had grown accustomed to working my whole life in a bookstore now wrapped itself around me once again.
I left the living room and made my way over to the store. That was where I found Sarah. There were no other customers here at this time of night, so my little sister was reading a book at the counter just as I had always done in her position.
“Welcome home Onee-chan.”
Hearing me coming from my footsteps, she raised her head. Meeting my gaze she showed her pearly white teeth in a large smile.
Moving around the counter, I took a seat right next to her.
Click, Click, Click…….the ticking of each second passing filled the room from the clock hanging on our wall. For a short moment, us sisters shared that time together, but then my little sister abruptly shut her book and shattered that silence.
“…….a sister came by today. She said she was looking for you, so I told her you had run over to the guild. Did I do good?”
“Yeah, good, great job.”
I patted her head which had the same shade of red-colored hair as my own. Then, after a little light tickling, she leaned over, resting her head on my shoulder,
and released a large sigh. What’s wrong? After I asked, Sarah turned her big, round eyes my way.
“I’m going to be thirteen years old this year.”
“Eh, yeah. I know…….”
Sarah’s birthday is a little after spring starts. The sheep, tired from only ever eating hay, will start going out and munching on the green grass which will have just started poking out from beneath the snow.
“Last year Onee-chan gave me a bookmark.”
Sarah opened the book she had just closed back up, revealing a brass bookmark with a flower print etched on the surface. It was the present I gave her after she and I went walking around town during her birthday last year.
“You’re using it. Thanks.”
“It’s something Onee-chan gave me after all. Of course I’m using it.”
Saying so, Sarah let slip another smile, but this one was different than what she had shown before. She looked more grown up. Maybe it’s just a trick of the light? Or maybe she really has become more of an adult, and I’m only noticing now that I’m sitting right next to her.
“While you were gone, I was thinking about what I wanted to ask from you this year.”
I wasn’t really sure why Sarah was talking about this right now, so I gave her a vague answer and let her go on.
“But, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get what I want this year.”
I blinked a couple times in surprise, but Sarah’s gaze remained firm.
“Onee-chan…….you’ve been staring off somewhere in the distance ever since you got back. You’re not looking at me. You’re staring off at somebody who isn’t here. It’s probably…….those people right?”
Narrowing her eyes, Sarah stared back at me with an adult-like gaze beyond her years. It wasn’t the usual, innocent Sarah. Her eyes carried more than just their usual warmness; there was a feeling of acceptance as well.
“At first……I just thought you were tired after coming home from your prolonged errand. But Onee-chan, you were having so much fun. Whenever you were with Tosrillon-san, Carol-chan, and Rosalith-sama, you were so animated.”
Saying, “This book is too difficult for me anyway,” Sarah pulled her bookmark from the book she was reading and turned it around in her hand. The sun’s rays pouring through the window played off the polished brass, producing a small, golden glow.
“That night that Tosrillon-san and the others ate with us…..I’ve been watching you ever since I was born, and still I’ve never seen you laugh or smile as brightly as you did that night.”
“W-Well, Sarah. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. To tell you the truth……”
I need to explain…….opening my mouth with that thought, Sarah suddenly sealed my lips back up again with her bookmark.
“There’s only one thing I want to know. So, will you tell me? Is Onee-chan leaving this house?”
My mind ends up drawing a blank as it tried to come up with an answer for Sarah’s straightforward question. So Sarah continued on.
“I want you to stay.”
“But, that’s the selfish part of me talking.”
Sarah continued on without waiting for me to give an answer. And rather than putting it back in her book, Sarah removed the bookmark from my lips and put it in her breast pocket.
“Onee-chan, I want you to be happy. Because, I love you. You are my Onee-chan……..”
I thought she was looking like an adult, but maybe she was just trying to put on a strong front for my sake. The realization hit me when I noticed the tears welling up in her eyes.
“I hate seeing my favorite sister in the world looking like she’s about to cry every day like this.”
“You want to go with Tosrillon-san and the others right? Onee-chan, you always loved reading adventure novels. After you got a taste of the real thing…….I knew I wasn’t going to be enough to tie you down.”
Sarah’s tears finally overflowed, dripping down her cheeks and onto my shoulder.
“No, Sarah…….that’s not it. For me, Sarah is my only most precious little sister…… Just the thought of leaving you…….even for me is…….. That’s why……..”
That’s why I haven’t been able to figure out what I want to do.
I wrapped my arm around Sarah’s head and held her close. She in turn wrapped her arm around my back, and be both took a moment to hold each other close.
“Really? Me too…….you really think of me as someone special to you?”
“Of course I do!! I love you too Sarah!!”
“I see………I see. I’m glad I could hear how you feel…….. I love you too. I really, really, really love you Onee-chan.”
A moment of silence passed as we continued to hold each other, experiencing each other’s body heat, hearing each other’s heartbeat, and feeling each other’s breath.
“That’s why Onee-chan……..you should live however you want. I think, it would surely be much more fun to support an Onee-chan like that.”
Sarah showed me a sweet smile before pulling herself away from me.
I brushed my hand against Sarah’s wet cheek, my fingers wiping away her lingering tears and causing Sarah to let out a small, surprised voice.
“I’m……a terrible older sister.”
“T-That’s not true. Onee-chan is amazingly wonderful. I want to grow up to be just like you Onee-chan. A kind, caring person……..”
“Sarah, is already more than kind enough. Liking an older sister like me…….”
In the end, I……couldn’t make this decision on my own. Without Sarah to push me forward, I probably would keep hesitating like this for the rest of my life. I would have just kept using the people I love as an excuse to not come up with an answer.
But…….I finally have my answer. The way I want to live my life is clearly stretched out before me.
“Hey, Sarah. I……”
It might already be too late. The people important to me might already be gone. But I quickly toss those negative thoughts from my mind.
“I……want to become an adventurer.”
Sarah smiled broadly.
“Yeah, I figured you’d say that♪.”
Us two sisters laughed and held each others hands.
“MONSTERS!! EVERYONE RUN TO THE CHURCH!!”
…….and then somebody’s voice broke through from outside the shop.